[Western Ghats] Threats to Biodiversity, Monoculture Plantation, Exotic Species, Sacred Groves

MrunalEnvironment

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  1. British Raj Exploitation
  2. Era and Approach of exploitation
  3. What are Sacred Groves?
  4. Fisheries and exotic species
  5. Mining in Western Ghats
  6. Sand Mafias
  7. Thermal power plants
  8. Transport and Communication
  9. Farm Houses and Resorts
  10. Construction and allied activities
  11. Monoculture Plantation is Bad?
  12. Tribals of Western Ghats

In the previous article, we saw the overview of physical geography and biodiversity of Western Ghats.
Now we see the threats to this biodiversity of Western Ghats.

British Raj Exploitation

After 1857’s mutiny, the Crown took over Indian administration. Now Britishers took three major initiatives in Western Ghats

  1. Construct Railways
  2. Construct Dams
  3. Construct Roads.

(usually in this order: Railways > Dams > Roads). Why was it done in this order? Think about it :)

  • Anyways, the British used these three ‘channels’ for resource extraction and exploitation in Western Ghats.
  • Later they started giving away land in the Sahyadri region (Maharashtra) at throwaway prices, to expand urban and industrial settlements of Mumbai-Thane, Nashik, Pune region. (And this trend has continued in the present times as well.)
  • Nowadays, Whether virgin lands in the Sahyadris, is opened up for development of urban areas, hill stations, farm house plots or holiday resorts= bad for biodiversity.

Railways: Impact on biodiversity

  • The first railway across the Western Ghats was built from Mumbai to Pune, and was completed in 1863.
  • railway line was instrumental in transporting forest, agricultural produce, timber etc. from jungles to the untapped market in Peninsular India as well as Europe.
  • Thanks to railways, timber from the Western Ghats could be transported to most corners of the country, through the medium of railways.

Dams

  • Britishers build the first dam First dam in the Northern Western Ghats in British India was built in Mumbai at Vihar in 1860.
  • After that, they constructed of over 20 dams till 1947.

Era and Approach

  1. British Raj
  • Shifting cultivation banned
  • State takeover forest lands.
  • large-scale teak
  • plantations
  • Sacred groves and sacred
  • Species destroyed
  1. 1947 to 80s
  • large-scale river valley projects and mining
  • Many sacred groves felled
  • to meet industrial requirements;
  • Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks established
  1. 80s onwards
  • Land acquisition and industrialization
  • Biosphere Reserves + Ecologically Sensitive Areas established.
  1. between 1920–1990, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have lost about 40% of their original forest cover.
  2. Rise in Population and industrialization.
  3. tourism, holiday resorts.
  4. River valley projects= forest area is being submerged.
  5. Mining mafias encroaching in forest lands
  6. soil erosion, land slides
  7. Railways, roads and other infra.projects = natural habitats getting fragmented + road / rail accidents killing wildlife animals.

What is Sacred Groves?

  • Part of a forest, that Tribals consider sacred.
  • This part is left untouched. Hunting and foraging is not done here.
  • Sacred Groves often have natural water storage facilities, help villagers during drought.
  • With increase in mining activities, roads-railways, infrastructure projects, plantation etc. the Sacred groves have been declining in number.

Fisheries

Fish consumption =traditional source of protein poor people in Western Ghats.
Problem areas in fisheries

  1. Unscientific methods of collection (use of poisons, electro-fishing, dynamiting etc.)
  2. Pollution due to pesticides, industrial effluents/other sources
  3. Waste dumping in rivers
  4. Introduction of exotic fishes
  5. Destruction/loss of breeding grounds
  6. Unauthorised ornamental fish trade
  7. Introduction of Exotic species
Why exotic species are bad for biodiversity?
Exotic species Belong to some other area/ place / region
Endemic species Found in the particular place only.
  • Consider this case: Periyar Lake is one of the biodiversity hotspots of Kerala.
  • Exotic fish species such as Cyprinus carpio have been introduced here for breeding.
  • But their food preference is similar to endemic species= competition for food=endemic fish population affected.
  • Similar case with exotic high-yielding African catfish.
  • Alien species such as catla, rohu and mrigal have been cultured in most of the reservoirs and ponds of Kerala.
  • And because of them endemic fish populations=declined.

Mining in Western Ghats

  • Iron, manganese and bauxite.
  • After 2002, the price of iron ore has increased in international market = this led to rise in illegal mining in the Western Ghats.
  • The major ports on Western Coast of India = ideal for exporting these ores.
  • Hence (illegal) mining activities have grown rapidly especially in Goa and Karnataka.
  • 100% of Goa’s ore is exported of which about 89% is exported to China and about 8% to Japan

Why Mining is bad for biodiversity ?

  • Opencast mining has induced significant changes in water quality and quantity besides causing topographical, morphological, and land use changes.
  • Suspended particulate matter in the mine =air pollution
  • Tailings (residual material) is discharged in water. This water is used for paddy cultivation= soil fertility declined.
  • During rain, direct surface runoff from the adjoining mine dumps into the agricultural lands= soil pollution.
  • Mining activities require considerable pumping out of water.
  • Hence water tables drop due to the drainage of water into mining pits =local wells go dry = shortage of water for drinking and farming.
  • This severely affects the poor women, because they’ve to travel long in search of water.

Air quality

  • The ores are transported from Karnataka to Goa on a massive scale. But Why?
  1. for blending with local ore for its upgrading the quality before export.
  2. exporting through Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) in Goa.

ok then what’s the problem?

  1. enormous traffic problems because trucks’ movement
  2. Trucks are often overloaded, and uncovered= spillover, accidents.
  3. It has increased air pollution =health problems for local folks.

Sand Mafias

  • During dry season, sand-mafias dig away sand from the river beds.
  • Indiscriminate sand mining= water tables lowered.
  • River beds in some stretches are lower than the sea level = saline ingress =drinking water is also salty and unfit for agriculture= crop losses

Incorrect land use patterns

  • In Goa alone, the government itself has acknowledged that over half of the 300 odd mining leases are located close to water bodies= water pollution.
  • Selaulim dam= drinking water to 50% public of Goa.
  • About 180 mining permissions are given within one kilometer of this project.=again water pollution.

Thermal power plants

  • The states in Western Ghats have large-scale iron and steel, cement, petroleum refineries, sugar, distilleries, fertilizers and petrochemical industries.
  • All of which are large energy consumers.
  • Therefore, many thermal power projects are commissioned in these states.
  • Thermal power plants increase the temperature of nearby regions.
  • Higher temperatures of water= better dissolution of toxic chemicals from air=bad for environment, bad for fishes.
  • Thermal power plants emit Fly ash.
  • Particles of fly ash also contain toxic elements such as lead and mercury
  • When fly ash is deposited in the marginal areas of the river= Reproduction of fish is affected.
  • Thick deposits of fly ash at the bottom of lake/rivers make the nutrients unavailable to aquatic life.

Transport and Communication

  • Western Ghats=hilly terrain, thick forests, heavy rains, roads get washed off.
  • So in In the ancient and medieval times, the Transport and communication = very difficult.
  • In fact, the strength of the Maratha empire rested on the strategic advantages of this inaccessible terrain.
  • But after independence, = major river valley and mining projects =lead to development of extensive transport and communication facilities.
  • Problem?= Growth of roads +railway lines across the Ghats = connectivity between natural habitats disrupted. = bad for biodiversity+accidents.
  • Emergence of a large wealthy middle class = holiday resorts etc.
  • availability of powerful earth-moving machinery,
  • The Western Ghats are beginning to be urbanized.
  • But it leads => biodiversity destroyed + local tribes displaced.

Farm Houses + Resorts= Bad 4Biodiversity?

  • In past decade a new wealthy upper middle class has emerged.
  • They like to buy “second homes” in the hill areas for vacation and holidays.
  • At the same time, when city people are attracted to the hills, the village people want city life. So they have started selling land, and migrating to cities
  • But City folks want good wide roads, water, electricity…everything in their holiday homes and farmhouses. This has led to unprecedented level of construction activities in the Western Ghats region.
  • Non-renewable materials like cement, steel, bricks and quarried stone are used to constructing these resorts and farm houses.
  • These houses replete with with ACs, TVs, marble, and similar luxuries.
  • Consequently, the weekend homes have become more energy-consuming than a city home!

Gardens

  • People also want to have city-like in these resorts/farm houses.
  • but these “city-like” gardens use excessive daily watering, fertilizers and pesticides= bad for local species.
  • Many times invasive plant varieties are used that are dangerous to local ecosystems.
  • These gardens are overlaid with pathways, paving, steps, etc., consuming a lot of cement.
  • To sumup Developmental activities associated with these projects are roads, terracing, vegetation cutting, construction and landscaping, all proving dangerous to biodiversity.

Construction (Allied) ?

  • For example setting up temporary colony/slum of laborers for constructing resorts and farm houses in Western Ghat.
  • This leads to new problems such as
  1. waste disposal, both solid and liquid
  2. Increase in vegetation cutting for fuel wood
  3. Increase in wildlife hunting
  4. Quarries and stone crushers
  5. Stone dust causes air, soil & water pollution
  6. ill effect of accumulation of stone dust on vegetation

Monoculture Plantation

Monoculture by Government

  • Monoculture plantation means forest department just grows only one type of tree in a particular area.
  • Government usually starts monoculture plantation to reverse the deforestation (caused by mining, forest-fire, illegal felling of tress etc.)
  • It was attempted in India, in the 80s. Large plantations of Eucalyptus tree were setup in Western Ghats.
  • But Monoculture plantation is bad from biodiversity point of view. Why?
  • Because in a jungle, the insects, birds, monkeys etc. require multiple species of trees for their food and survival.
  • When Monoculture plantation is introduced, these animals/birds/insects start migrating to other areas in search of more suitable living conditions.
  • Hence Monoculture plantations are sometimes called “Green deserts” (because like deserts, very few species live here.)

Monoculture by farmers

  • The term Monoculture plantation is also used when big farmer establishes a permanent tea/coffee/rubber etc. plantation.
  • These plantations lead to soil erosion, degradation of river ecosystems and toxic contamination of the environment.
  • The use of pesticides like DDT was started in the tea plantations during the British period itself.
  • The quantity of toxic pesticides being pumped into the plantations is so huge it has severely affected the biodiversity of Western Ghats.
  • Therefore, Instead of monoculture, we should use polyculture/mixed cropping systems.
  • It will help to reduce soil erosion, improve water holding capacity of the soil and improve economic returns from unit area.

Tribals

Western Ghats has a large tribal population only in a few pockets such as the

  1. Dangs
  2. Thane
  3. Wynaad
  4. Nilgiris

Cholanaikas

  • They’re the only truly stone age hunting gathering tribe of Peninsual India.
  • They live in Nilgiris.

Problem of the tribals?

  1. Loss of biodiversity =less Forest produce (wax, honey etc.).
  2. Extermination of wildlife species= can’t do hunting anymore.
  3. PESA and Forest rights acts are not implemented thanks to vested interests of Mining mafias.
  4. Displacement of tribals due to mining, holiday resorts, plantation farmers, hydro projects etc.

Although tribals too have witness the positive sides of Development:

  • Better transport and communication facilities- means malaria is no longer life-threatening among tribal communities.
  • Tourism generates (some) employment.

In the next article, we’ll see the recommendations of Gadgil Panel on Western Ghats.

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